Nick & Choose 15: Trapeze

Published September 9, 2009

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Living the High Life
Nick learns how to swing.

No one goes to the circus for the clowns. They’re more creepy than amusing. And no one goes to see the elephants. Maybe in the radio days, when an elephant up close was impressive, but now it’s just a sad, seven-ton beast in a headdress.

The true draw: the trapeze. It has acrobatics and finesse, but more than anything, there’s the scandalous, titillating prospect that you might see someone die.

Heights hold a natural yet terrifying attraction. After all, who hasn’t toed the edge of a precipice and, just briefly, entertained a crazy notion. What’s legitimately shocking is you’ll be doing exactly that within the first 20 minutes of your visit to Trapeze School New York’s local branch.

Located inside the Jordan’s Furniture in Reading, TSNY emphasizes safety, but definitely takes a push-you-into-the-pool approach to instruction. After some brief guidelines, you’re up on a 24-foot platform with no time to pause and wonder “How’d that guy at the front desk get that scar on his head?” That’s good, because on my first routine I swung upside down by my knees and dismounted with a back flip, which felt like trying to learn math and having the teacher skip counting in favor of calculus.

Trapeze seems like a simple combination of goals: Appear graceful and survive. But you soon discover some surprising revelations.

The stuff that looks hard is easy, and the stuff that looks easy is hard. I’ve never done a back flip in my life, but it’s simply a way to seem cool while falling. Just hanging on, though, can be a literal pain, as centrifugal force stomps your hands like an action movie villain. And while you’re concentrating on seemingly important tasks like looping your legs around the bar, things you hadn’t considered, like when to make your initial jump, are the crucial elements to maintaining a rhythm.

Trapeze school isn’t aerobically tiring, but elicits strong physical reactions. My feet don’t often sweat, but I was soon glad to have chalk to rub on appendages other than my hands. It takes a few skipped showers for me to build up B.O., but after two hours, I had a definite musk. Each series of swings is a burst of adrenaline, and for all its intoxicating benefits, adrenaline is a sweat-and-stink-inducing hormone.

With a few passes under my belt, I started to relax and focus on circumstances somehow more absurd than trapezing above the lobby of a furniture emporium. Like how I ended up in line behind a guy who went to circus camp in fifth grade. He was making me look bad. Also in the complaints department were the liquid fireworks, a fountain and light show that gave the proceedings an admittedly badass background. But while circus boy flew to a soundtrack featuring the music from Superman or Chariots of Fire, my turns always coincided with heart-thumping numbers like Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World.”

In my final two runs, instead of a normal dismount, I was supposed to hang by my knees, arch my back, stretch out my hands and be caught by an instructor swinging on an adjacent trapeze. Success hinged on the simple act of presenting my partner with “sevens,” or firm, open palms with thumbs extended.

My opening run was majestic. I seamlessly tied together my moves, arched my back and then…put out my hands like a lady awaiting a kiss from an upside-down suitor. “Sevens!” I heard as I fluttered down to the netting.

It was courageous of me to sacrifice a turn in order to prove the importance of sevens to my classmates, and after each one succeeded, I ended the day with a triumphant run of my own. As I bounced off the mat, I realized that my life needs more exuberant fist pumps. But unless I really get into ottomans, it’s probably my last one in a furniture store.

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